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Bruce Boudreau thrilled about role in 'Slap Shot'

Wild coach was extra in hockey classic that was released 40 years ago Saturday

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

Bruce Boudreau, a showman at every stage of his career, was once an extra in the hockey classic "Slap Shot." The coach of the Minnesota Wild doesn't mind telling you he reveled in every minute of the filming experience.

"I was quite a ham," Boudreau said. "The director [George Roy Hill] was saying, 'We're going to show how bad Charlestown is; the goalie is going to be getting a lot of shots; and so we're probably going to have the camera on the net the whole time.

"So I just kept circling the net, all the time. Because I knew that's where all the action was … and I knew that's what the camera was looking at."

As a result, Boudreau made the final cut of the movie that was released 40 years ago Saturday, on Feb. 25, 1977. 

Boudreau was in his first professional season the year "Slap Shot" was produced, and he ended up playing in Johnstown after the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association folded at midseason. His agents at the time, Alan Eagleson and Bill Watters, promised Boudreau they'd get him signed to a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the start of the following season, but in the meantime, suggested he drop down to the deep minors to finish out his rookie pro season.

Video: Slap Shot at 40: Paul Newman

"It was probably the worst mistake I ever made, but at the same time, it's something I'll never forget," Boudreau said.

Nancy Dowd, whose brother, Ned Dowd, had once played for Johnstown, wrote the screenplay. It was Boudreau's understanding she had gathered all the memorable anecdotal material for the movie on one two-week trip with the team.

Boudreau's apartment was even featured in the movie.

"The director came in and said, 'We need an apartment for Paul Newman right now, a real rundown place. Who has the worst apartment on the team?' And everybody pointed to me.

"That was my sloppy period. I think they used my bed and if nothing else, I got a better bed out of it."

Boudreau's strongest memory of that time was a brief interaction with Newman, the legendary film star, who played the lead role of player/coach Reggie Dunlop.

"It's one of those things [that] when you meet somebody like that, you remember it the rest of your life," he said. "One day, [Newman] asked me how to take a slap shot. Like an idiot, I was so technical. He said, 'OK, kid, that's enough, that's enough,' -- and he walked away.

"The other thing I remember: Dave Hanson [who played one of the Hanson Brothers] asked me, 'Do you want to go see the dailies?' I didn't even know what he was talking about. It was what was filmed that day.

"So there was me and Dave and Paul Newman and George Roy Hill, the only four guys watching it, which I thought was so cool. Paul Newman turned around and said, 'I just finished making a movie called "Judge Roy Bean." I did that for the money.' He said, 'This movie, I think, is going to be a real hit.'

"I remember that to this day because he said it right to me. It's just something that stays with you. He was probably the No. 1 actor in Hollywood at the time."

Video: Slap Shot at 40: Making of

Given Boudreau's naturally outgoing personality -- he's nicknamed "Gabby" for a reason -- has the longtime coach ever thought of venturing back into the film industry?

Uh, no.

"That's my whole acting career," he said. "But I sit there now and think, 'That movie was 40 years ago. How old am I?'"

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